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Saturday, Oct. 25, 2014

Making cuts to 'COPS'

Sunday, February 20, 2005

(Photo)
Sikeston Department of Public Safety Officer Jerry Alley talks to students.
SIKESTON - A new focus for the Department of Justice in the 2006 budget could leave Sikeston out of the picture.

In President Bush's proposed budget as submitted to Congress, the Department of Justice is allocated $2.2 billion more for fiscal year 2006 than in 2005.

The proposal, however, cuts money that previously went to local law enforcement agencies to spend more on combating terrorism and foreign espionage. This includes slashing the Community Oriented Policing Systems program from $499 million to $22 million.

Since the program's beginning in 1994, COPS grants have enabled many area police departments including Sikeston's to build their rosters by subsidizing salary and benefit costs for three years. The local agencies paid for training and equipment and agreed to pay the full salary and benefits for a specified time following the grant.

"We've been participating since day one," said Drew Juden, director of the Sikeston Department of Public Safety. "It's just been a good program."

DPS hired six officers though the COPS program. "We've never lost one of them - we've kept everybody," Juden said. "It's helped us reach the staffing level we have today."

Two years ago Sikeston was approved for School Resource Officer grants and implemented the SRO program this year by hiring three SROs with the assistance of COPS funds.

"It really makes a difference," said SRO Jerry Alley, who was a police officer for 20 years before becoming a school resource officer.

Alley is assigned to the alternative school on Moore Street. "The teachers there feel more safe," he said. "It's just a good preventative system for the violent world we have now. I would recommend any school that doesn't have a D.A.R.E. program or have an SRO to try to get into both programs."

SROs maintain a presence and keep an eye out for suspicious vehicles and people near the school. "That's what we are there for - to protect the students, the faculty and the property," Alley said. "I walk the school rooms, hall, school grounds - you look for anyone on school grounds who doesn't belong."

Alley said he makes assault arrests for fist fights, but usually just pulling up a chair is enough to calm down any unruly behavior around the school. "When there's a cop in the building they usually don't do anything wrong," he said. COPS also helps local agencies with equipment grants such as the Local Law Enforcement Block Grant program and "Secure Our Schools" grants, Juden said. In COPS' second phase, it added funding for enforcement activities such as drug task forces which local officials are concerned may not be able to operate without the federal funding.

The SEMO Drug Task Force gets 100 percent of its funding from grants, Juden said. "We have got to fight as a community and as a region to keep that funding and keep these programs going," he said.

The majority of crimes DPS deals with are related to drug activity, Juden said. "They are all intertwined and associated."

The proposed philosophy of the president and drug czar, however, is to target kingpins and the East and West Coast, according to Juden.

"I think as long as the demand is here, they're going to find a way," he said. "It's an ongoing fight across the country as a whole and not on the right or left coast."

DPS has definitely benefited from the extra money for equipment and to help put officers on the street but Juden said COPS is more than just a funding mechanism for the Department of Justice.

"It's a philosophy we've adopted and continue to use today," he said. "It's about becoming a partner with the community and getting the community involved in all aspects of policing and getting police involved in all aspects of the community."

The program started in Sikeston as a general community betterment project, Juden said, doing things like cleaning neighborhoods, planting gardens, helping refurbish homes with a coat of paint, and making officers more visible and accessible to the public with bikes and foot patrols. Officers are also encouraged to coach sports teams and take part in other community activities.

As a result, the community has become more supportive of the department, Juden said. Crowds gathered around the scene of a crime no longer stick their hands in their pockets and claim they didn't see anything.

"There is a greater level of trust from the community toward the police," he said, and building a team relationship between the DPS and community has made Sikeston "a stronger and safer community."

Some information was provided by the Southeast Missouri News Service.